For over two thousand years, Bukharic Jews were one of the most isolated Jewish groups in the world. Eventually settling in the region of Bukhara in Central Asia due to, among other reasons, commercial opportunities along the Silk Road, Jews from this region came to be known as “Bukharan Jews.”
The New York metro area has the largest population in the world and the majority of Bukharic Jews in the United States. They are concentrated along 108th Street in Forest Hills, the street has been dubbed “Bukharan Broadway,” and neighboring Rego Park has been dubbed “Regostan,” both, of course, part of “Queensistan.” The Bukharic Jews are so concentrated in the borough that Queens College actually started a Bukharan Jewish history and culture class in 2010.
Now that freedom to practice their religion has been realized, many Bukharan Jews have used the opportunity not only to embrace their distinct religious identity but also to gain knowledge of Orthodox traditions normally associated with the Ashkenazi branch of Judaism. As the Bukharan Jewish community's chief rabbi explains, “About twenty percent of the community are Orthodox, sixty percent are traditional but not necessarily observant, and twenty percent are unaffiliated.” Despite the influence of Ashkenazi Orthodoxy in Queens, Bukharans (while being Mizrahi like many other Jews from Central Asia) still practice Sephardic Judaism. Most Bukharan Jews are very superstitious and do not question their rabbis, which is one reason why their distinct religious rites and customs have been preserved.
Almost nightly, the Bukharan restaurants in Queens convert into party halls, usually celebrating someone's birthday, wedding, bar mitzvah, or a Jewish holiday. If a Bukharan family is wealthy enough, these parties take place in their large mansions, which house multiple generations of families under one roof. While the Bukharan community has its share of unemployed people with limited English skills, a super-wealthy class has emerged as well, primarily from working in the jewelry industry.
- By far the most visible Bukharan adherent to Orthodox Judaism is Lubavitcher Lev Leviev, a diamond cutter who is one of the world’s wealthiest Jews and biggest philanthropists, donating millions to Chabad Lubavitch and Bukharan causes.
- Many Bukharic Jews are more comfortable in Russian than they are Bukharic, which leads people to confuse them with “Russian Jews.”
- The language of Bukharic is having a small revival in Queens, where a Bukharan theater regularly performs plays in Bukharic.
Adapted profile courtesy from Global Gates. See ethNYcity for original profile.